Customer Service Focus
By Paul Z. Martin, CPCU
THE ELEMENTS OF GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE IN PERSONAL LINES
Use emotional intelligence to build trust with your customers
When an agency sells insurance to an individual or family, it is not just meeting a need; it is interacting with them in an intimate way. It’s more than a transaction; it’s a relationship. The agency gathers details that are unique to that family and can be highly personal.
As the agency builds the relationship, expectations are developed. Customers want to know they are more than just a policy they bought. They are depending on the agency to protect their home, their autos, their assets, and their future. They need an agent who cares about them.
Service-focused employees are attentive to what’s important to each customer. They listen, respond, and act—with emotional smarts.
What does caring for customers look like? How can customers tell if they made a good choice? A standard answer many agents give is: “We provide great customer service.” Is that true? How can you tell?
Customer service is a set of behaviors that combine to build what matters most in the mind of the customer: trust. Academic studies have shown that trust is one of the most statistically relevant factors for an insurance customer not to look for alternatives at renewal time. Renewals, of course, are the foundation of the growth and financial success of individual agents and agencies.
What are the elements of service provided by independent agencies that build customer trust? They are the same as the components of what today is known as emotional intelligence: friendliness, empathy, self-awareness, and reliability. Let’s explore each of these.
For an independent agent to provide quality customer service, he or she must have a level of social skill that engenders goodwill and creates a positive impression in the customer’s mind. Friendliness can be enhanced through an agency culture that reinforces its importance. This element of customer service should be simple to identify in those the agency hires. Hiring for friendliness and supporting it in the agency culture are the first key components of great service.
Empathy can be defined as the ability to understand and vicariously experience the feelings and thoughts of others without their having to explain them. Empathy has become a popular area of research and study. Some people are naturally empathetic, but everyone can enhance the empathy they show every day.
Empathy starts with curiosity about customers and their lives. It’s listening for the intriguing parts of the customer’s story. It’s learning about people who are not like ourselves.
Empathy involves looking beyond our biases and presuppositions and finding common ground with others. By expanding our perspective, we learn what others value beyond our own experience.
A vital component of empathy is listening. Paying attention to small clues that customers are giving to their emotional state and what they are experiencing helps the agent understand their needs. One simple secret to better listening is to be quiet. Stop talking and make the conversation about the customer.
Self-awareness is another key element of emotional intelligence and great customer service. It is the ability to recognize our own emotions and the impact those emotions have on the mood and emotions of others. Self-aware people recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. They take in information constantly to learn how what they are doing is affecting others. They are confident and are likely to have a good sense of humor.
When an agency is hiring, it should look for this trait. Self-awareness grows more impactful with time and helps individuals develop into leaders who make good decisions for the organization about how the customer should be treated.
The final element of emotional intelligence that makes for great customer service is reliability. When customers know they can count on agents to do what they say they will do, it not only builds confidence in the agency but also builds that trust that is so vital to renewal.
It’s also a powerful way for agency staff to avoid errors and omissions. When the binder is put in place, when the endorsement is processed, when the renewal is ordered, when communication happens when it should, customers are getting what they need and the agency is delivering on its promises.
Providing individuals and families great customer service requires a set of behaviors that help to build a trusting relationship with the customer. Employees are attentive to what’s important to each customer. They listen, respond, and act—with emotional smarts.
Paul Z. Martin, CPCU, is director of academic content and team lead at The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, where he works with faculty, agents, and other industry professionals to deliver industry-best content and education. During his career, Paul has been an adjuster, underwriter, special agent, company manager, independent agent, and insurance educator.